U-D Jesuit begins quest to become first repeat Class A champion since Kalamazoo Central in 2011
(PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Donoher)
Detroit – When U-D Jesuit opens up tournament play this week, the Cubs will have a different look than they had just a season ago when they won their first boys basketball state title.
Gone is Cassius Winston, a four-year starter and the 2016 Mr. Basketball winner, who is now playing at Michigan State.
In his place is sophomore Julian Dozier, the team’s backup point guard a season ago. He has been handed the reigns to lead the defending Class A champions.
While there have been growing pains, which is the case for any young point guard, Dozier has helped guide the Cubs to a 16-3 record heading into the tournament.
“He played pretty well for us as a freshman,” U-D coach Pat Donnelly said. “Obviously they’re big shoes to fill, a lot of responsibility. He’s very good when he gets downhill, when he’s pushing the ball, he’s great in transition, he finds people, he makes two (defenders) guard one and that opens it up for everybody else. He’s still learning, he still makes a bad turnover here or there, or takes a bad shot here or there, but the good far outweighs the bad.”
Dozier said that having the opportunity to spend time as Winston’s understudy, rather than starting from day one, was something that benefited him going into this season as he had the opportunity to learn from one of the country’s top floor generals.
“It made it a lot easier,” Dozier said. “There are a lot of freshman point guards who come in and start right away, but for me, playing behind Cassius, and against him in practice was a big help and it was a great experience.”
Replacing a player of Winston’s caliber is something that doesn’t happen overnight and U-D has had its struggles at times this season as the Cubs’ record would indicate. U-D finished last season 28-0.
But as the season’s gone on, the Cubs and Dozier have continued to improve. Since a loss to Detroit Catholic Central on Jan. 24, U-D has rattled off eight straight wins which includes the program’s fifth consecutive Catholic League title.
In a 65-53 win over Detroit Cass Tech in Operation Friendship on Thursday, Dozier finished with a game-high 22 points to pace the Cubs.
“We put a lot of responsibility in his hands and for a 15-year-old to be handed the ball on a team that has such high expectations, there’s a lot of pressure,” Donnelly said. “Our expectations of him, unfairly or not, we’ve been spoiled with a really great point guard in the past four years, for a sophomore to come in and try to fill those shoes, he’s done a great job.”
Dozier said he and his teammates will be ready for another deep run into the state tournament as the Cubs will look to advance to the Breslin Center for a fourth consecutive season, while trying to defend their title.
“We have a target on our back,” he said. “We’ve got to come out and play every game like it’s our last, because we’re going to get everyone’s best shot, because we won last year. Whoever we play, there’s a mark on the calendar, so we have to bring our all in every game we play.”
U-D will have a first-round bye in district play and will open up its postseason on Wednesday against the winner of the Detroit Renaissance-Southfield for the Arts and Technology game.